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Spain scrambles to contain spiralling infections, salvage tourism season

REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Regional authorities across Spain introduced fresh coronavirus restrictions on Thursday aimed at stamping out a surge in infections that continues to defy efforts at containment and is damaging tourism.

New cases had slowed to a trickle in June, before a nationwide lockdown was lifted, but since then more than 280 clusters have been detected, with wealthy Catalonia the worst affected, leaving hotels largely empty and bars shutting down.

Health ministry data showed 2,615 new cases across Spain on Thursday, compared with a daily average of just 132 in June.

In Catalonia, nearly 8,000 cases were diagnosed in the last 14 days - almost half of the 16,410 detected throughout the country - despite guidelines for residents of regional capital Barcelona to stay at home.

Murcia, in the south east of Spain, sealed off 30,000 people in the town of Totana on Thursday, barring anyone from entering or leaving after 55 cases linked to a bar were detected there.

And, in a deepening spat between regional and central authorities, Madrid is pushing the central government to impose stricter controls on the city's Barajas airport after more than 70 passengers landed in the capital while infected.

Madrid authorities also urged citizens to wear a mask even at home, when they are with people they don't live with.
Promoting a similar message, the Canary Islands launched a graphic publicity campaign in which a family party turns into tragedy when the grandfather ends up lying unconscious on a hospital bed after contracting Covid-19.

"A simple family gathering can bring you as a present 40 days in a coma, or even death," the slogan reads.

Failing to bring the epidemic under control could spell disaster for Spain's tourism sector, which accounts for some 12% of economic output and has begun a tentative reopening after hotel occupancy more than halved in the first six months of the year.

Since France's prime minister failed to rule out closing the border with Spain, the focus is now on what other European countries could do.

Norway's government is set to decide on Friday whether to impose a 10-day quarantine on people travelling back from high-risk countries, after warning that Spain might be included on that list.

Although infections are on the rise in Spain, officials point out that the majority are asymptomatic and the death rate remains well below the peak, partly because new cases are more concentrated among younger people.

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